Which should we, as followers of Jesus Christ, aim for more: impact or intimacy? Should we strive to be used of God? Or should we strive to know God and to be known by Him? It is not an entirely either/or proposition, I admit. But too often it is an unexamined question. Perhaps we’ve never thought about it. Or maybe we’ve assumed an answer. But may I drag it out into the open for a few minutes?
If we make impact our aim, what happens? Who knows, maybe we’ll attain it! But then how would we know that we have? How should one measure impact for God? Numbers? Size? Budget? Name recognition? Influence? Position?
It is a dangerous path to trod, is it not? It is filled with plenteous landmines planted by the world, the flesh and the devil.
But even if we miss the landmines, what does aiming for impact get you? In proportion to the purposes laid upon him and within his own lifetime would Abraham have been considered successful? Probably not. How about Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel or most of the rest of the prophets? Not likely.
What is it the writer to the Hebrews said regarding the greatest people of faith? “… none of them received [in their lifetimes] what had been promised.” (Heb. 11:39b)
Here’s at least part of the struggle – Impact is a highly pragmatic thing, which is fraught with opportunities for compromise. Intimacy, on the other hand, is a personal, relational matter in which all that matters is the relationship to the other person (in this case, God).
Pursue impact and you’ll never rise above a performance-based intimacy, even if outwardly successful. If you produce you will matter – or at least you’ll think you do. But this is anti-grace; it is pro-works. It is self-righteous. It is thus anti-gospel. Pursue impact and chances are you’ll miss out on intimacy. But pursue intimacy and you may just make an impact. Any such impact may not be immediately detectable. In fact you may not even be able to take an accurate impact-reading before you’ve left this life. But if you do make an impact by pursuing intimacy, it will be God’s doing. If you do, it will be by grace. If you do, it will be to God’s honor and glory, not your own.
But there is a certain danger in both paths, isn’t there? The danger of pursuing impact is in the pragmatics. I will do whatever it takes to produce – perhaps even things that will diminish my intimacy with God (not to mention my intimacy with the others He has put in my life). The danger in pursuing intimacy is in the subjectivity of it. When am I authentically intimate with the Almighty? When is He genuinely intimate with me? Many along this path fall victim to false voices, ideas and promptings.
Characteristically, Jesus made the matter of intimacy simple and clear. He declared that He is intimate with the one who is obedient to His Word! “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” (John 14:21)
All of this reminds me of Paul’s great concern for the Christians of Corinth: “But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” (2 Cor. 11:3, nasb) I think often of that last phrase – “the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” That sounds like a life of intimacy.
I want desperately to be used of God. I want—even more desperately—to walk closely with Him, even if there is no apparent outward impact from my doing so. For I believe that any impact made while not walking intimately with Him is negative impact—no matter how spiritual it may appear on the surface. And I am equally convinced that a life of true intimacy with Christ will never be without radical and lasting impact—regardless of what the temporal, time-laden readings may say.